The Cove, directed by Louie Psihoyos in 2009, documents the efforts of Ric O’ Barry and his team in unveiling the truth behind dolphin hunting in Taiji, Japan. The documentary opens with O’ Barry driving down a street that is heavily ornamented with images and sculptures of whales, dolphins, and other sea animals. “Its so bizarre because if you didn’t know what was going on over here, you would think that this was a town that loved dolphins and whales”. The truth: Taiji is the world’s largest supplier of “entertainment” dolphins as well as Japan’s main source of dolphin meat.
What’s interesting about O’ Barry is that his affection for dolphins actually stems from his former career as a dolphin trainer in the American hit TV series Flipper, a 1964 television show that sparked the entire nation’s love for dolphins. After ten years of building up the dolphin industry from scratch, O’ Barry spends more then 35 years trying to tear the industry back down. This sudden change was the result of the death of Flipper. In an interview, O’ Barry is quoted to have said, “I changed when Flipper died in my arms from suicide. I use that word with some trepidation but I don’t know another word that describes self-induced asphyxiation. Dolphins and other whales are not automatic breathers. Every breath that they take is a conscious effort, which is why they don’t sleep. If life becomes miserable, they just don’t take the next breath. Flipper looked me in the eye and stopped breathing”.
Although The Cove is categorized as a documentary, I find that the film often looses its sense of identity. Maybe it’s because the contemporary audience now seems to require highly dramatized scenes in order to pay attention to the movie, but whatever the excuse may be, there are elements in the film that I find distasteful or manipulative. For example, music is heavily used throughout, with careful planning so as to influence the viewer’s interpretation of the footage. Similarly, the camera angles that Psihoyos uses on the different people interviewed reflect the opinion he has of the interviewees. For example, when interviewing deputy director Hideki Moronuk (who supports dolphin hunting), the camera is set at an obscured side angle while Moronuk is left looking straight ahead at the interviewer. This creates the illusion that Hideki is unintelligent, which is only further strengthened by his broken English (which also brings up the question, why wasn’t the interview conducted with a translator so that Moronuk could speak in Japanese?). On the other hand, when interviewing subjects that are against dolphin hunting, and therefore strengthening O’ Barry’s cause, straightforward angles of the head are used in order to make the interviewee look educated and composed. Overall, The Cove is a biased documentary that manipulates the viewer and leaves out significant information from the other end of the argument.
All in all, what I find most bothersome about The Cove is the whole concept of a gang of Americans flying halfway across the world (with hundreds of black duffle bags) so that they might “sneak” into Taiji to rescue every dolphin they can from the insensitive Japanese. The irony of the situation is that America is home to some of the largest aquariums and animal parks in the world, all of which must purchase dolphins and other wildlife annually. These parks and aquariums are essentially commissioning the Japanese dolphin hunters by providing them with a supply demand. So why does O’ Barry find it necessary to travel all the way to Japan when the root of the problem is in his backyard? Additionally, what I find even more ironic is that while O’ Barry is desperately trying to protect dolphins from slaughter and animal cruelty, he probably unwinds to a hearty plate of cow and pig every night. Did O’ Barry and Psihoyos suddenly forget about the mass factory farms in America? It’s not news that the pigs and cows we eat are shoved into dirty cells, fattened with hormones, and fed until they burst. If O’ Barry and Psihoyos are going to make such a big deal about dolphin hunting in Japan, they should also do the same for the helpless cows and pigs trapped in our American diet.